As I am sure you have heard, the big controversy with Apple’s newest iPhone surrounds the lack of a certain century’s old audio port. When I first saw the rumors that Apple would drop the jack, I was immediately for it. The way I saw it, if there was any company in the world that could convince people to drop wires and move to Bluetooth (or a new in-house chip tie-in), it was Apple. In fact, this isn’t the first time Apple has killed an industry standard port or device in favor of a new technology the company felt to be better. The first iMac shipped in 1998 without a floppy disc drive- the same 2.5-inch floppy disc standard that Apple first helped to mainstream in the late eighties. New millennium, new outlook, I suppose. In 2005, Apple killed the FireWire port, which it used in the original iPods to charge. In 2007, Apple introduced an iPhone that lacked support for Adobe’s Flash player for internet video and graphics, opting in favor of HTML (the current standard of the Internet). In 2013, they killed the CD drive in their MacBook lineup in favor of wireless downloading and streaming (that was a big one for a lot of people). In 2012, Apple killed their own 30-pin connector, the only input port available on their iPod, iPhone, and iPad lineups in favor of the new, reversible, smaller, multi-purpose Lightning connector we have today. And in 2014, with the release of the new MacBook, Apple essentially killed everything else in a computer: HDMI port? Gone. USB? Gone (Sort of, hang on). Ethernet? Oh that’s gone. Power port? Peace out. SD card reader? Overstayed its’ welcome. Even Apple’s own Thunderbolt port saw the door. In their place was a one port solution: USB-Type C, an “all purpose” port that can be used for input, output, reading, streaming, transfer, and power. Paradoxically, however, the only other port that Apple decided to keep on the new MacBook (the computer that Apple believes will be the future of laptops) was the headphone jack.
And in this latest iteration, the iPhone 7 joins a long line of controversial Apple products that once again push the consumer to a new industry standard. But this time, after using it for nearly two weeks, the iPhone 7 is probably Apple’s best argument for the truly wireless future it’s been seeking for decades now.
Before I review it, though, I’d like to offer this anecdote:
I was giddy after the iPhone 7 was announced. I had the 6 and was eligible for upgrade on the same day the 7 dropped, so I could not wait to get my hands on one. A friend of mine was also excited because she was upgrading at the same time. Between the announcement and release day, we talked every day strategizing and preparing our carrier plans for the switch. We had decided on our respective devices (both matte black, she went for the 128GB while I went big with the 256GB model- more storage than either of my MacBook Pro’s, I might add). We were both pro- removing the headphone jack and paid no real attention to the consequence. Friday morning came, we waited outside the Garden State Plaza Apple Store, first in line and eager for to pick up our new life-changing devices. Doors opened at 8a, we were the first in and among the first out. We walked around the mall, playing with the cameras and testing out the new stereo-speakers, excited that the fruits of our labor had finally paid off. Eventually, we were ready to make the hour long trek home. We got in my car and I reached out to plug the auxiliary cable in to my iPhone for music and… stared at it. Phone in one hand and headphone jack in the other. My friend looked at me, confused, until I looked at her and said, “Oh, right.”
Now, that’s hardly the end of the world. But it did cause me to pause and realize that a lot of the concerns people had over the iPhone 7 were justified. I’d like to make two additional notes about this; 1) I am fortunate in that I already own wireless headphones, wireless speakers, and an Apple TV that lets me stream content to my television wirelessly. My car was the only place I still used a 3.5mm jack. However, I used my cars port every time I drove anywhere which you might imagine is often, and 2) On Sunday I ordered a Bluetooth receiver for my car to go wireless. It came on Tuesday and I have been using it since. A few hiccups with connectivity, but otherwise, it is great. When playing music, the bass is loud, vocals are crisp, and acoustics sound just as good to my untrained ear as a wired connection. Having said that, I am no audiophile so others may notice a big difference.
Ok, enough about the big drawback. There’s a few new features to the iPhone 7 that bare mentioning. First off, it is the first iPhone to be rated water and dust resistant. That means it can take a spill, a dunk, some rain, or a shower without the hardware failing. That’s great! It means that in the event my dear friends decide to test my gazelle-walking-on-ice –like balance near a pool, my phone will handle the consequences just fine. But it is clear that Apple made the iPhone waterproof as a precautionary measure- not really a “feature,” so to say. I’ll explain; I said you can take the iPhone in the shower, right? Well, you can. And I did. Last night, I decided to test how water resistant the device is. It survived the shower just fine. Here is the problem: the phone is virtually useless when wet. You have to unlock the phone using your fingerprint, but the scanner doesn’t work when it and you are covered in water (naturally). So, as a backup, I called up the screen to type in my passcode. Well, the touchscreen doesn’t function well (if, at all) when covered in water because it struggles to differentiate between your fingers and the water drops. So now you can’t really interact with the screen. But wait! Siri! I can control my entire phone using just my voice with that little assistant! I tried that too, but Siri can’t hear you over the sound of the shower nor can she understand you when the speaker grills are covered in water (everything sounds muffled).
I know what you’re probably thinking. “Max, your phone just survived the shower and you are complaining?” No, most certainly not. I am grateful that my phone is no longer afraid of water. It will make a lot of day-today-activities less worrisome. But last night in the shower reminded me that just because the phone can handle water doesn’t mean it likes or wants to.
Next up is probably my favorite feature of the iPhone 7; the new stereo speakers built in to the top and bottom of the device. They’re great for phone speakers. They are at least twice as loud as previous iPhones meaning you no longer have to cup your hand around the bottom of the phone to hear it. In fact, in some songs and videos, you’ll actually want to turn down the volume because it is too loud. I love it.
The new home button is cool, too. Gone are the days of mechanical clicks- hello taptic feedback. What that means is every time you go to “press” the home button, you feel a quick vibration that imitates the feeling of a physical click. I’ll be honest, it’s brilliant. It took me a day or two to get used to the new response, but now that I am, the physical buttons on my iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 feel inferior. It is super easy to get used to this new home button and the feedback is pleasant enough to render physical buttons outdated.
Battery life is surprisingly good. Apple claims this is the longest lasting iPhone it’s ever made, and I am inclined to agree. Earlier this week, one the eleventh day I had it, the phone went 27 hours 40 minutes on standby and 9 hours 40 minutes of usage before dropping to 6%. I am very happy with that. With the Apple Battery Case I bought earlier last week, the iPhone 7 went 53 hours 30 minutes on standby and 15 hours 45 minutes of usage before dropping to 5% on the phone and 0% on the case. That’s amazing by my standard. I should note, though, that all phones have great battery life out of the box. To really test the strength of the iPhone 7’s battery, one would need to use it regularly for weeks and even months to gain a true understanding. But, getting more than 24 hours on a single charge is quite promising. I know this phone will handle a trip to New York City and back without dying halfway through (like my iPhone 6 would).
So, anyone who is actually reading this knows that I am, more or less, the resident tech geek of my friends and family and, more so, the resident Apple technician. I own Apple, I love their products, and I recommend them to most people I know. And if you are reading this and have made it all the way through to this sentence, there is a better-than-not chance you are curious whether you should upgrade to the iPhone 7. I’ll try to answer this in two parts.
The iPhone 7 is by far Apple’s best argument for the future of mobile tech. It’s packed with evolutionary features like waterproofing, new solid state home button, enhanced wireless connectivity, brand new camera system that works well in low light conditions (very well, if I am honest), new speakers loud enough that you can show your friends a video and not feel violated halfway through it, and a bigger, better battery to power all of it. It is also the fastest mobile phone ever made, even beating some of Apple’s own laptops in speed. This is a great phone.
It is also the most mature iteration of the iPhone, and more so 2014’s iPhone 6, that we will probably ever see. The iPhone 6 was a fantastic phone. I actually had a little trouble saying goodbye to it today because I really, really loved that phone. It works so flawlessly so much of the time that, really, I didn’t have a reason to upgrade to the 7 beyond, “I wanted to.” The 7 builds on that flawlessness in very specific, evolutionary ways. For example, the pressure sensitive screen of the iPhone 6S feels more thought-out on the 7 in iOS 10 than on the 6S in iOS 9. You can “right click” (applying pressure to the screen) on notifications, message threads, photos, apps like Instagram and Yummly, on the home screen, and generally in places where a right click is actually handy. On the iPhone 7, you don’t need to click the sleep/wake button to turn the screen on anymore; there is a new Raise to Wake feature that uses the phones motion sensors to detect when you are lifting up or turning the phone over and automagically turns on the display. Siri no longer requires you to press down on the home button to get her attention; simply addressing her with, “Hey Siri” even when the phone is on standby will summon her (this was a feature of the iPhone 6S, too, but never one on the iPhone 6). And she’s able to do more, too! Siri now works with third party apps like Uber and Yelp so you can reserve tables or get a ride without even unlocking your phone. The seamlessness of wireless connections in iPhone 7 make Bluetooth and Apple’s new W1 headphone chip a serious argument for buying in to the wireless world. This is, without a doubt, the most mature and well-rounded iPhone Apple has ever made.
And that poses a problem. Because no one has ever been excited by the “most mature” adult in the room, the iPhone 7 lacks the excitement and amazement that comes with getting a new Apple product. Within an hour of owning it, I was back to my normal ritual. One, it’s because the iPhone 7 looks exactly like the last two generations of iPhone. Two, there is nothing actually new about the iPhone 7 other than its’ lack of a headphone jack. The 6S had water resistance (tested many times on YouTube), Hey Siri, and the pressure sensitive display. It’s got the same design as a two-year-old iPhone, which not only had speakers, cameras, good battery life, Siri, and all the great apps that come with iOS, but also a headphone jack to boot. Every iPhone ever made has had a home button. There is simply nothing new or extra-ordinary about the iPhone 7. Now, I wouldn’t call that the devices’ Achilles’ heal, but it is important to understand coming from a company that wow’s even its starkest competitors.
And that’s why, for general purposes, I would tell you to skip this version of the iPhone. Yes, it’s a wonderful device and I am extremely happy to have one. But you, the reader, are likely not a nerd like me. You don’t get a childish twinkle in your eye every time Apple announces a new product that’s, “25% faster, 40% better, 22% thinner, and 85% better at keeping you from getting a date” than ever before. If you are looking for the perfect phone, the iPhone 7 is probably the best choice. It is not perfect, but it is closer than any other phone I have ever used (including Android and Blackberry). But, if you are looking for something that is traditionally Apple; cool and new and different and fun and quirky all in the same breath, as I believe most consumers have come to expect from Apple, I would recommend you save your money. No, it isn’t that Apple has lost its touch or has no more ideas. It is that phones have become so good that they don’t need a radical rethinking every two years anymore. I think Apple is likely moving to a three-year upgrade cycle because of this. Additionally, that would make the iPhone 7 the third year of the same form factor. Which means next year, for the tenth anniversary of the release of the iPhone, I think it is safe to assume Apple has something really special planned. The New York Times, never one to report on rumors without independent confirmation, claimed in their iPhone 7 review that next year’s device will see the entire front of the phone become a display. Home button, TouchID fingerprint scanner, speaker grille, and front camera will all be integrated behind the display. Also, several credible sources have reported that the 2017 iPhone will get retina eye scanning for enhanced security and true wireless charging (none of that place on a charging pad bull). It is extremely likely the 2017 device will receive more than just those three features, too. That is the iPhone I would wait for if I were the typical consumer.